Although Paul Newman passed away seven years ago, I still miss him. His charisma on-screen and his incredible charity off-screen made him almost too good to be true. A dedicated family man who didn’t care for the distractions of Hollywood, Newman went about his business as I wish many actors would today. His roles were many, his talent deep, his love of life unparalleled. Today would have been his 90th birthday, and while he may well have quit acting by now if he were still with us, having him as a resource for stories and anecdotes about old time Hollywood should would be nice. He is my favorite actor and his approach to his roles has given them life well beyond his own. I would assume that’s what every actor would hope.
And while we’re at it, here’s my list of favorite roles. Newman had the capability to bring something you might not expect to each role he inhabited. He, to me, is the blueprint for what an actor, and human being, should be.
Here we go:
Ben Quick – The Long Hot Summer
Newman plays a bad boy who can only be tamed by the love of a certain woman. That that woman also happens to be played by his future wife Joanne Woodward is pretty damn awesome. Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury and a gorgeous young Lee Remick round out this fantastic tale based on the Snopes stories by William Faulkner.
Lucas Jackson – Cool Hand Luke
One of Newman‘s most iconic roles, Cool Hand Luke shows us the story of Lucas Jackson as he tries to weather his time in a rural prison. Unwilling to adapt to rules, Luke butts heads with everyone from the prisoners to the guards to the superintendent in what has been famously said is “a failure to communicate.” Newman is off his ass in this one.
Hud Bannon – Hud
Here is Newman in another role as bad boy, although this time he can’t be tamed. Hud takes what he wants, when he wants it. Some find this endearing…others not so much. Newman lost out on an Oscar to fellow co-star Melvyn Douglas for this role. Patricia Neal also won for Best Actress in this one. A truly incredible film, exquisitely shot by James Wong Howe.
“Fast” Eddie Felson – The Hustler
Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) vs. Fast Eddie Felson – one of the great battles in cinema history all done over 9′ x 4.5′ table. Pool table, that is. Easily one of Newman‘s most recognizable roles (he reprised it for Martin Scorsese‘s The Color of Money, for which he won his only Oscar), Fast Eddie is a cautionary tale as much as a hero. I didn’t see this film until I was in my 20s. A shame really. It’s worth as many watches as you will allow.
Butch Cassidy – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
What to say about this role other than it is so fucking good? Newman operated so well in any genre. He tackled the Western with as much vigor, humor and gusto as he did with any others (he would go on to make two more Westerns in iconic roles as Buffalo Bill Cody and Judge Roy Bean). Acting opposite Robert Redford in his breakout role, Newman created one of his most memorable characters.
Brick Pollitt – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Oozing with sex appeal, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof pits Newman alongside Elizabeth Taylor at the height of her career as they battle one another in the adaptation of Tennesse Williams‘ play. An angry Brick wants nothing to do with his wife Maggie (Taylor) as he rests at his rich father’s estate after breaking his ankle while consumed with grief over the loss of his friend (and possibly lover) Skipper. In one of the great depictions of spiteful marriage, Newman shines as only he can. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the confluence of everything I adore about classic Hollywood.
Reg Dunlop – Slap Shot
It should be no small surprise that I would rate Newman‘s performance in Slap Shot as my favorite. It is, after all, my favorite film of all time. Newman owns his role as Reg Dunlop, the lovable loser player-coach for the failing Charlestown Chiefs. Blue collar to the bone, Dunlop’s schemes raise the profile of a hockey team that everyone has written off, even its owner. That we get to see Newman in a caramel-colored leather suit (see above for its deliciousness) as well as other amazing 70s threads make it all the more worthwhile. I can’t really describe my love for this film enough. Watching a foul-mouthed Newman skate and mix it up on the ice is truly one of the great pleasures of my life.
So there you have it. I’m so nostalgic right now, I wish I could hunker down and watch all of these films in a row. Another day perhaps.
John Hughes would have been 63 today. His death in 2009 shocked me even though he had been out of the public eye for years and hadn’t directed a film since Curly Sue in 1991. Hughes was the absolute MAYOR of the 80s. His youth/teen films raised the bar for the genre and, in my opinion, have yet to be eclipsed. But he was more than just a teen film director. His adult comedies were as pertinent as anything he did in the teen realm, echoing the same themes of acceptance and understanding all while bringing the funny sprinkled with moments of levity.
I knew you’d come around…
Hughes‘ films are important to me. I hold them as dear to my heart as any film(s) that I’ve ever seen. I saw Weird Science at the Rivoli Theater in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court over visitation rights. I couldn’t imagine a better way to have staved off the nervousness I felt that day. I happily recall watching Sixteen Candles with friends, rewinding about a hundred times the scene where Anthony Michael Hall is dancing with Molly Ringwald and farts, laughing equally hard each time. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may or may not have been the inspiration for my own two-week school skipping streak in 7th grade. These films helped me with the rough road through adolescence, showing me that insecurity, dysfunction and all of the other problems of youth were the norm, not the exception. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that and I believe that’s why his films resonated so well then and continue to do so to this day.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no.
I have been trying to rack my brain and I can’t think of another filmmaker that had a run of success in such a short time as John Hughes did from 1983-1987. As prolific as Rainer Werner Fassbinder was (is this the first time Hughes and Fassbinder have been mentioned together, I wonder?), I don’t think he even put up the resume that Hughes has. Woody Allen has had some good runs in his life, but none quite so strong as Hughes. Let’s take a look at the the films that Hughes either wrote or wrote/directed in this time period:
Mr. Mom (1983) – wrote
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – wrote
Nate & Hayes (1983) – wrote (I had never heard of this one)
Sixteen Candles (1984) – wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1984) – wrote and directed
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1984) – wrote
Weird Science (1985) – wrote and directed
Pretty in Pink (1986) – wrote
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – wrote and directed
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)- wrote
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) – wrote and directed
By my count, that’s 11 films, eight of which represent some the most well-known and iconic films of the decade. Hughes only directed three other films past this period – She’s Having a Baby, Uncle Buck and Curly Sue – all fair films, I suppose, but none match the beloved status of the bulk of the list above. While he continued to write mostly family films (Home Alone series, Beethoven series) for years after pulling his best Keyser Söze (And like that, poof. He’s gone), he never quite captured the magic he had from 83-87. That’s a pretty tall order in the grand scheme of things.
As is the norm, here are my 5 (cheated, really 6) favorite works to which John Hughes contributed and why they still rock:
5) Mr. Mom (tie)
The Wall Street Journal just declared the caricature of inept stay-at-home dads depicted in Mr. Mom dead just a couple of weeks ago. However, the appeal of this movie still endures. Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of Jack Butler, the former GM engineer who lost his job and now stays home with the kids, is incredibly funny and I believe was probably pretty spot on for the time. I was raised by my father and I can certainly say that he was far more able to raise three kids than poor Jack, but this would seem more the exception rather than the rule. I think that’s why this is so enjoyable for me as it gives me an insight to what my childhood could have been like with a more maladroit father. Keaton is loveable despite his cringe worthy displays. For example:
All this aside, this film was pretty groundbreaking. Showing a woman, Caroline (played magnificently by Terri Garr), who is out in the workforce while the children are at home, succeeding and moving up the corporate ladder? I can’t recall a single film like it at the time. And as is typical, Hughes gives his characters some really great, memorable lines:
How’d you like a little trim on that moustache, Ron?
If Mr. Moms are indeed dead, then I’m glad we will always have this record to remind us of their haplessness. For that, John Hughes, I say thank you.
Here’s the trailer:
5) National Lampoon’s Vacation (tie)
The first in the Vacation series by National Lampoon, and undoubtedly the best, Hughes adapted a short story he wrote while working for advertising/public relations firm Leo Burnett (you can read it here) to start the journey of the Griswolds on-screen. Hughes seems to be especially hard on fathers in his films, and this one is no exception. Released in the same year (1983) as Mr. Mom, they seem to be perfect companion pieces to one another.
We watch his program… We buy his toys, we go to his movies… he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us, huh? He owes the Griswolds, right? Fucking-A right he owes us!
As most everyone knows, this movie follows the Griswold family – Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) – as they traverse the country from Chicago to California on their way to Wally World, America’s Favorite Family Fun Park. Convinced that driving is the only way to travel, the Griswolds stop at roadside attractions as well as seeing some family. Randy Quaid makes his first appearance as white trash Cousin Eddie and is in fine form. After a series of car breakdowns, getting lost in the ‘hood of St. Louis, nearly getting arrested for animal cruelty, a dead aunt, and a near adulterous encounter, Clark glides the finally happy family into the parking lot of Wally World…only to find out that it’s closed for two weeks. The final punctuation on a road trip where not much else could have gone wrong. So, he takes matters into his own hands…
An homage to all shitty family road trips, National Lampoon’s Vacation hits the proverbial nail on the head. Even as stupid as Clark seems, he still has a the biggest heart and wants nothing but the best for his family. Unfortunately, he fucks it up every time, a motif that plays itself out over the course of the three other films in this series – European Vacation (without a doubt the absolute worst of the bunch – that Hughes had anything to do with this one makes me sad), Christmas Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation, whose only saving grace is the appearance by Wayne Newton.
Far and away the best part of this movie, I still laugh hysterically each time I see it:
The edited version for TV is nearly as funny: What I look like – Christopher Columbo?
So if you’re preparing to take the kiddos to Disney (as I am in May – God help me) or any other long road trip, give this one a watch and learn what not to do.
Here is the trailer:
4) The Breakfast Club
The quintessential 80s angst film, The Breakfast Club has comedic moments, but this one hits a closer to the bone than the rest of his films. Set in Saturday detention, five seemingly different high school students – a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a freak (Ally Sheedy), a popular rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a popular wrestling star (Emilio Estevez) and a hood (Judd Nelson) – are charged with writing an essay telling the tyrannical Assistant Principal Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson) who they think they are. As the day progresses, the group of teens go back and forth, attacking one another, reconciling, telling each other their tales of why they are there. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they are alike.
Obscene finger gestures from such a pristine girl…
This was one of the two films (St. Elmo’s Fire being the other) that spawned the term The Brat Pack and solidified Molly Ringwald‘s short-lived status as Hollywood’s “it-girl.” This of all of Hughes‘ films still seems to resonate the most, ring as the most timeless. These characters still exist in today’s high schools (watch Nanette Burstein‘s documentary American Teen for easy examples), so it’s no wonder why Hughes is/was the teenager’s poet laureate. Its anti-authoritarian message certainly helps.
The ending sequence is pretty unforgettable (pun intended), as Vernon reads the essay that the five left behind, Anthony Michael Hall narrating. That Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays over it (flush with a Truffaut-like freeze frame) really is the perfect accompaniment, an anthem that all high schoolers echo just wanting to be noticed.
I always adored this moment. Even though I was only in fifth grade when this came out, it struck a chord. While I couldn’t know the rough waters I’d have to tread when in high school, this was a nice primer and one of the many reasons I cherish Hughes‘ oeuvre. I think it was this film that Hughes found his full voice as a writer. You could see traces his craft coming together in his previous films, but this is a fully realized work that melds the comedic and serious perfectly.
Here is the trailer:
3) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It doesn’t get much more iconic than Ferris Bueller. This movie drips cool, well…with the exception of Cameron’s (Alan Ruck) stupid ass Detroit Red Wings jersey. That sucks. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick‘s signature role) is the guy everyone wants to know in high school – friend to all, big and small, cool or not.
When Ferris decides to fake being sick (who can be expected to go to school on a day like this?), an elaborate process that dupes his clueless parents, but not Vice Principal Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Rooney decides to catch Ferris and make him an example, in order to show other students that the path Ferris has chosen is wrong. Thus unfolds an epic game of cat and mouse between Rooney, Ferris and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara),best friend Cameron and his sister Jeanie/sometimes Shawna (Jennifer Grey).
When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…let my Cameron go.
Cameron is actually sick, but Ferris cons him into driving Ferris around for the day. Cameron is also a tight ass (if you stick a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you get a diamond) who needs to have some fun. So they embark on a journey for the ages, taking in the sites of Chicago and breaking through some barriers for each of the characters.
If you didn’t want to be Ferris Bueller in 1986, then I don’t know what to say about you. Who didn’t want to sing Wayne Newton and The Beatles on a float in a German parade through the streets of Chicago?
Incidentally, I lost a bet to my mother on whether the person singing “Danke Schoen” was a man or a woman watching this movie the first time.
This is one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen and may well be Hughes‘ finest creation. I think it, along with The Breakfast Club, is probably the most enduring as its themes are also universal. As Polonius said to Laertes in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I think Ferris followed this advice better than anyone. He never misrepresents himself to anyone he’s with, even to Rooney, and I think that’s why he’s such a relatable character. This was Hughes‘ biggest strength as a writer. It is evident in every film discussed here and why we are still talking about these films.
I hope The rebelliousness of Ferris is alive and well among the youth of today. If not, you must be a bunch of boring bastards…
Here is the trailer:
2) Sixteen Candles
I’m not sure how I originally stumbled upon Sixteen Candles when I was a kid. I can’t remember if we just happened to pick it up at the video store (yes, kids, there used to be actual stores where you could go rent videos, not DVDs) or if we had seen some preview for it. I wasn’t exactly following certain directors’ work back when I was 9. Or was I? Nonetheless, this movie floored me with its humor, its depiction of family as insanely fucked up, and the hope that things you wish for may actually come true.
Well if it isn’t Sammy Baker Davis Jr!
The story centers around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald in her first real starring role) who turns 16. However, her birthday happens to fall on the day before her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married. Since her family is up to their eyes in wedding details, they forget that it’s Sam’s birthday. An obvious nightmare for anyone, let alone a girl on her sweet sixteen. The scene when she realizes this is perfection, truly setting up each of the family member’s characters in a short 45-second scene. Watch:
Sam has one more big issue in this film as well, and that’s Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). She has a crush on him, but he is the most popular guy in school, very rich and is dating the hottest girl in school, Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris). When she passes a note that falls to Jake accidentally, he finds out about this. As she tries to make things happen with Jake, she is followed around by a geek and self-professed “king of the dipshits” named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), who incessantly tries to pick her up. Couple all of this with being saddled with taking her grandparents foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), to the school dance where Jake will be, and she’s got a lot on her plate.
No more yanky my wanky…the Donger needfood!
One of the biggest successes of this film is that it is also Anthony Michael Hall‘s coming out party. He really established himself as a quality comedic actor in this film. He had obviously worked with Hughes material in National Lampoon’s Vacation before, so perhaps that was to his advantage. His character is so slimy, yet so endearing that you feel sorry for him. Also, he is the chief architect of a few of the film’s funniest scenes, e.g. when he and his friends (one being a young John Cusack) meet Long Duk Dong for the first time at Jake’s party, the aforementioned dance sequence, and when he takes a drunken/passed out Caroline to meet his friends in the middle of the night.
But ultimately, this is Samantha’s journey. We ride the roller coaster with her, and at times, it is difficult. The talk she has with her father (Paul Dooley) after he realizes they forgot her birthday was very real and quite spot-on. Or I imagine it is as I’ve never had this talk with a teenage girl or been a teenage girl, but Hughes situated it where I could empathize. Not an easy task. While this film has its share of juvenile humor (it is a film about high school after all), it has a heart and certain characters end up showing this even when you think that they aren’t able.
This is for you ladies:
Here’s the trailer:
1) Weird Science
So this is number one. With a bullet. This may be one of the three funniest movies I’ve ever seen. A absolute riot from start to finish, this was kind of a surprise from Hughes who with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club had added more drama to each film leading up to Weird Science. It’s juvenile, filled with raunchy humor and is a departure from the prior formula he employed. And it works. WELL. At least in my opinion. It is far and away the Hughes film that I watch most and that it why it grabbed spot #1 on this list.
The basic premise is two losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), can’t fit in. Picked on, abused by cooler kids, and ignored by all girls, they decide to build their own woman using Wyatt’s souped up computer while his parents are away for the weekend. They cull the most beautiful images from Playboy magazines, give her genius intelligence and finish the job by harnessing the electricity from a thunderstorm to give her life a la Dr. Frankenstein all while wearing bras on their heads (ceremonial). And BOOM! They have Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).
What would you little maniacs like to do first?
So it becomes Lisa’s mission to help make the guys transition from being nerds to cool. Not an easy process considering what she has to work with. She starts off with them in a night on the town, which quickly goes from bad to worse. But then, Gary hits his stride amid the funniest scene in the entire film. Watch:
Fats, man…let me tell you my story, man. Were funnier opening words to a story ever uttered? Methinks not.
And let’s credit Hughes for maybe the best part of this film – the creation of Chet (Bill Paxton), Wyatt’s older brother and caretaker while his parents are away. Abusive and gross in every sense of the word, Chet represents what these two are up against every day of their lives. And Wyatt, chicken shit that he is, takes everything Chet has to give, served in a dirty ash tray. Chet extorts him and abuses him verbally and physically. But when Lisa enters the story, things start to change even with Chet. All that aside, I would argue that Chet is the second best movie character next to Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) in Slap Shot. And Paxton‘s performance pretty much rules. Who else can say, “But first, I’d like to butter your muffin…” any slimier than he does? I dare you to find someone. DARE YOU.
That is a severe behavioral disorder!
The guys have their eyes on two girls, Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) at school, but they happen to be dating Gary and Wyatt’s arch nemeses, Ian (a very young Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Ruslan). Lisa decides to help the guys out and throw a BIIIIG party at Wyatt’s house and invite everyone. When the guys stay in bathroom, Lisa does what she can to coax them out and prove their meddle so Deb and Hilly will see them for who they are. This of course yields two of the funnier parts of the film, but it’s here they make their final transition from nerds to being not necessarily cool, but noticeable, shall we say.
You’re dropping wolf bait, and there’s chicks outside! Light a match, light a fire. I don’t know.
While it doesn’t have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have, Weird Science earns its ending. While Hughes moved on to more adult and family friendly fare after this (with exception of maybe Uncle Buck which treads some of the same water here), I’m so glad he squeezed this one in.
Here’s the trailer:
So as I said before, Hughes left a mark on my childhood – his films helped me navigate the unsteady times of adolescence. These films are signposts that me and many of my friends can point to as we continue to try and make our way through this world. Hughes‘ passing in 2009 was tragic because he gave voice to my generation. While he hadn’t spoken for it in quite some time, he still held that title when he died and I believe he continues to do so. There are rumors that one of his unproduced scripts in moving into production. PLEASE DON’T. Let the man rest. There is a reason that project went unproduced.
And I thought the A Christmas Story poster was the best fan-made alternate poster I’ve ever seen. Just so damn awesome. This one is absolute perfection and captures the essence of the film so well…at least when the Chiefs aren’t playing Toe Blake/Eddie Shore-style old time hockey.
Here is a great article on why Slap Shot is so damn great. And if you are interested, here is a great book about the making of the film. As I’ve stated before, this is my favorite movie of all-time. Chock full of the most colorful characters cinema has to offer, it still makes me laugh as hard today as the first day I saw it.
Kudos to Paul Slayton who designed this. Truly amazing work, sir!
Slap Shot (1977) is my favorite movie of all-time. There. I said it. I make no apologies for this. It is not the technical best film of all-time. It is not the best acted film of all-time. However, it is the one film that I can return to at any given time and it can still make me feel as good as, if not better than, the first time I watched it. Its comedy endures, its humanity endures and its fashion endures…well, perhaps not that part. It is the finest example of why I watch movies and it will forever occupy that coveted #1 spot in my all-time top 10.
“Puttin’ on the foil. Every game. Want some?”
Slap Shot follows a hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, based in a town where the local iron mill employs the vast majority of its inhabitants. The players on the team are as blue collar as the mill workers – journeymen working a job to get paid and survive, some putting more into it than others. Past his prime player-coach Reg Dunlop (played masterfully by the best actor of his generation, Paul Newman) is the architect of the fifth place Chiefs. Reg is a local celebrity who once played with great players like Toe Blake and Eddie Shore. However, it’s clear he’s way past his prime, both as a player and a coach.
Player/Coach Reggie Dunlop (played by Paul Newman)
The players seem to just go through the motions of being hockey players and are the subjects of hurled insults from the fans who likely come as much to heckle them as to cheer them on. League-leading scorer Ned Braden (played by David Lynch-fave Michael Ontkean) is an ace on the ice, but off the ice is another story. He and his booze-fueled wife Lily (played by a young Lindsay Crouse) are at odds with their lifestyle. Ned was all-Eastern at Princeton, but loves playing hockey. Lily wants nothing more than to leave the dingy arenas of minor league hockey for a more stable environment far from mill towns like Charlestown.
Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean)
Around Dunlop and Braden circle a cast of the most sordid characters: Denis Lemieux, the French Canadien goalie prospect who has an “allergy” to fans who attend the games, sex-crazed Morris Wanchuk, playboy Billy Charlebois (from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – best name for a town ever?), willing-to-please-the-coach-at-any-cost Dave “Killer” Carlson and none more famous than the bespectacled Hanson Brothers – Jack, Steve and Jeff. The Hansons come to the Chiefs in a trade from the Iron League, notorious for its vicious fights. But after Dunlop spots them in their hotel room playing with toy cars and putting foil on their knuckles before their first game (pictured above), he’s convinced there is something wrong with them and they are banished to the bench.
Denis Lemieux (Yvon Barrette)
Morris “Mo” Wanchuk (Brad Sullivan)
Billy Charlesbois (Guido Tenesi)
When word is out that the steel mill that supports the vast majority of the town’s populace is closing, the status of the Chiefs’ existence comes into question. After general manager Joe McGrath (frequent Newman collaborator Strother Martin) unexpectedly makes a road trip with the team, it is announced that the Chiefs will fold after the season is over. The whole team panics, unsure of their futures. Braden, with his college degree, at least has a backup if another team doesn’t sign him. Captain Johnny Upton (played by long-time Altman 2nd Unit director Allan Nichols) sums of the bulk of their situations – “fucking Chrysler plant, here I come!” Dunlop makes a last ditch effort to save the team, however. After being told by his ex-wife that he needs to retire and he can no longer count on hockey anymore as he is no good as a coach and can’t make the Chiefs win, he adopts the “I’ll show them” attitude. He begins by installing the Hanson brothers in their first game after Carlson is ejected for fighting. And this is where everything changes. The Hanson Brothers don’t disappoint. They wreak havoc on everyone who steps on the ice, pulling no punches, literally, even when a referee intervenes. They are all ejected from the game, but the once morose fans are injected with excitement and enthusiasm by this new display of violence, a typically American reaction. And it spirals from there. The Chiefs begin a winning streak and cultivate a larger and larger fan base, winning fans hearts at home and terrorizing them on the road. Fans fill the stadium wherever they go and the Chiefs are enjoying a period of prosperity that they haven’t seen in years. The players hopes are inflated when Dunlop gives local sports reporter Dickie Dunn (whom this site is named for, played by character actor M. Emmet Walsh) a scoop that the Chiefs are on the verge of being sold to an investment retirement group in Florida. But this is all smoke and mirrors put forth by the far-more-crafty-than-you-would-think Dunlop. He’s really just trying to find out who the real owner of the team is in an attempt to save his own ass and hopefully those of the rest of the team by making them profitable.
Meanwhile, Braden, who is a scorer not a “goon” (as those who are prone to fighting are called in hockey), refuses to play the new Chiefs strategy. He tells Dunlop, “We win cos I score goals.” Dunlop retorts “Oh, kiss my ass. We win cos I make ’em crazy!” And he benches Braden. On top of this, Lily has left Ned and concentrated on herself for once. And this drives Ned crazy.
After blackmailing McGrath, he is finally able to locate the owner, Anita McCambridge (played by Kathryn Walker). After a back-and-forth, she admits that she could sell the Chiefs as there has been some interest; however, her accountant tells her it’s better to fold the Chiefs and take a tax loss. Infuriated, Dunlop delivers one of the most memorable lines of the film, one perhaps best left for him to say.
That evening the Chiefs are to play in the Federal League Championship against the Syracuse Bulldogs. Dunlop has had a change of heart, though. He tells his team the that he made the Florida deal up. “You know, we ain’t hockey players. We’ve been clowns. We’ve been goons! We’re the freaks in a fuckin’ sideshow.” And they vow to play their last game together playing old time hockey, the way it should be played, a notion that is constantly echoed by Maxine Nightingale’s anthem “Right Back Where We Started From” throughout the film.
However, in retribution for an earlier altercation with their captain Don “The Hook” McCracken, the Bulldogs have gone out and signed the games most legendary goons and cementheads – Gilmore Tuttle, Andre “Poodle” Lussier, Ross “Mad Dog” Madison, Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown, and the biggest goon of all, Ogie Ogilthorpe (based on real-life goon, Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe).
Ogie Ogilthorpe: “The biggest goon in hockey today”
The final game is rife with humor and an unexpected resolution as the colorful cast of characters battle it out putting the proverbial cherry on top of what, to me, is the most fun ride in sports film history. Director George Roy Hill and cinematographer Vic Kemper (whose work also includes Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky) did such a great job capturing the on-ice action. They are literally able to situate the viewer in the middle of all of the crushing checks and scoring rushes.
“She’s just scrappin'” is one of my favorite lines of any movie (and so perfectly delivered by Newman). It sums up so much, not just about Lilly Braden, but of the other characters in the film as well. These characters have to claw and scratch, and yes “scrap”, to get everything they’ve got, which isn’t much. It is also a phrase that can sum up blue-collar-to-the-bone Charlestown and most of its inhabitants. Kemper’s shots of Charlestown are bleak, filled with gloomy, grey skies, rowhouses, mill workers and dingy bars filled with drunks watching soap operas in the middle of the day. One of the few shots where we see the opposite is when Dunlop goes to Anita McCambridge’s house. In her world it is sunny, birds are chirping, grass is green, and a Volvo station wagon filled with groceries sits in the driveway. All is well on her side of the tracks, which is quite a contrast for the 10,000 mill workers who’ve been placed on waivers.
This line also could have easily applied to the film’s screenwriter, Nancy Dowd, who based the film on her brothers exploits in hockey’s minor leagues and specifically playing for the Johnstown Jets. Writing in Hollywood has largely been a man’s game. And writing about tough guys sports like hockey? Forget about it. Dowd brought a compelling story with incredibly colorful characters to light and for that I am eternally grateful. She should be cheered on high. This film has been the source of endless entertainment for me, my family and friends. How many quote sessions have we had? How many video game characters have we named after its characters? Too many to count.
It is also an honest portrayal of blue collar people, tough economic times and making the most of what situation you are in. The lessons put forth in this movie are ones that are still important today, perhaps most importantly summed up by words of The Bard – “to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day; Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Paul Newman called this his favorite film role and when that is taken in context, that speaks War and Peace-sized volumes. This from the man who played Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie Felson, Hud Bannon, Luke Jackson, Ben Quick, Henry Gondorff and Lew Harper. Perhaps he likes it so much because he got to spend nearly all of his off-ice time in the film in a sweet caramel colored leather suit. Maybe not. It’s hard to believe that Al Pacino was considered for this role (and Nick Nolte for the Braden role). Good thing Pacino couldn’t skate.
This film endures to this day and is widely regarding as one of the best sports movies of all-time. In my opinion, it’s the best movie of all-time…and my opinion is pretty damn good.